Alien - Complete Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Soundtrack Review

by Chris McEneany
Movies & TV Review
Alien - Complete Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Soundtrack Review

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The fantastic Intrada label has come up with the goods again. Exec Producer Douglas Fake finally managed to get the long-awaited project of putting out the full, complete original score that the magnificent and irreplaceable Jerry Goldsmith created for Ridley Scott's seminal first venture into the realm of cult sci-fi, Alien, off the ground ... and with spectacular results.Twentieth Century Fox's recent discovery of a 1-inch multi-track source has made it possible to finally restore Goldsmith's original score to its full glory. Every note of his score, as performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Lionel Newman, is now presented here for the first time with utterly superb production and clarity by CD producers Mike Matessino and Nick Redman. The package also contains a terrific booklet of notes by Matessino, which will be covered in more detail in the extras section.

Alien is one of my all-time favourite movies and I have adored its beautiful, frightening score since an early age. Jerry Goldsmith is also, perhaps, my favourite composer. It is certainly true that I listen to his scores possibly more than any other composer's, so it is with great awe and pride that I can now supply details about what, in many film-music-lovers' opinions is the definitive release for one of the most intriguing, complex and experimental scores ever to grace a mainstream genre movie, a score that is just as devastating and intelligent as the film it graces. But it has certainly taken a long time to get here, folks - and it is sad to say that the composer didn't really enjoy the experience of working with Ridley Scott, although he was ultimately moved and enthralled by the movie that came out of their collaboration.

Drafted in after a phenomenal string of successes that included Planet Of The Apes, Chinatown and The Omen, Jerry Goldsmith seemed the type of composer that any self-respecting filmmaker would entrust wholeheartedly with the project and although this was certainly the case with Scott, it would seem that the fastidious and obsessive director still couldn't keep his hands off. But then, from out of such tampering and friction cult classics are born

With Scott and sound designer-cum-editor Terry Rawlings chopping and changing the order and length of Goldsmith's music, the composer felt horribly left out of the loop. Rawlings' use of prior Goldsmith cues from previous films as temp tracks to inspire the mood and atmosphere of the production and help inspire the composer to create more of the same went completely against the grain and typical working practices of the orchestral-and-experimental maestro who subsequently had to suffer the indignity of being told to rescore several key scenes to further meet the director's intentions. Goldsmith had specifically written his score to the 127-minute cut of the film, matching his music to the visuals with precision-placement and to see some of his cues being reworked, snipped and played out of sequence was a wrench that would leave the composer seething. Sadly, of course, history would repeat itself with a truly sickening gut-punch when, after reluctantly accepting Scott's invitation to score the equally controversial fantasy-epic Legend a few years later, his entire soundtrack would be tossed aside in favour of a horribly turgid and ill-fitting score from German synth-gods Tangerine Dream. Thankfully, that indescribable wrong was eventually righted and the proper Scott-approved version of the film re-released to much more acclaim with Goldsmith's music intact. A full and fantastic CD release of this score is available. But, as far as Alien goes, we have had to wait almost thirty years for Goldsmith's original endeavours to surface - I'm not counting the various bootlegs that have appeared along the way, which haven't done it justice - and the results are now spectacular, atmospherically breathtaking and a fascinating example of how creative talents can differ even - or, perhaps, especially - when attempting to reach the same objective.

Disc 1 here presents the original score for Alien as Jerry Goldsmith first envisioned it. Running for 57.06 minutes and in the film's chronology, unlike the album release and a couple of the bootlegs, it represents a version of the score that, to some ears, might not even sound all that different from what they already know, the variations being found mainly in the length of the cues and their spotting in the film. With some scenes being shortened and tightened-up, inevitably Goldsmith's music suffered, lessening the overall tone and texture that he had sought to sustain. Tracks 1 - 23 encompass the film as the composer originally saw it, whilst Tracks 23 - 30, running for a further 19.48 minutes, supply us with the seven alternate cues that Scott had Goldsmith rescore. The main differences here can be slight, yet effective, or actually quite profound. For instance, compare the beautiful, almost romantic Main Title that Goldsmith came up with to embody the sense of wonder and mystery of deep space and alien contact with the version that Scott preferred, which is downright creepy, haunting and unearthly. Then, in the slight-but-effective department, listen to the sensationally majestic cue Hyper Sleep in its two variations. The alteration here is barely four or five seconds long, but boy does it make a difference. As John Hurt's Kane reawakens from his stasis chamber, Goldsmith's tiny alteration sees that the trumpet solo is dropped in favour of a more dreamlike feel. Now, these two examples are actually - surprise, surprise - cases where I think that Scott was, in fact, correct to insist upon the changes. The film's Main Title needs to be ominous and melancholy and the rebirth sequence is enormously benefited by that ethereal, sliding and almost sensual chord descent that almost seems to carry you for its duration. Honestly, whenever I listen to the rescored cue, my head actually moves in-time to the music and it is so dreamy, so supernaturally swooning that I really do not want it to end.

The entire early section chronicling the landing on the alien planetoid, the trek across its desolate, windswept surface and the discovery of the derelict ship and the things it contains is pure standout stuff. Where Scott, as is now customary for the filmmaker, managed to truly evoke our belief that what we were viewing was real - in this case an alien landscape and the fossilised remains of an extraterrestrial pilot - Goldsmith gave this utterly bizarre setting a musical accompaniment that was, at once, preternatural, ominous and mysterious, blending in some of the most unusual instruments - Indian conch-shells, a didgeridoo and an echoplex to “clone” whole-note repetitions - with some highly unorthodox methods of playing them. The results, only partially heard in the film, are some of the most astonishingly evocative you will hear. The Passage (Track 6), The Skeleton (Track 7) and A New Face (Track 8) especially place you in an aural environment that, with the lights out, will have you palpitating. A New Face, with its echoplex warping of the harp and violins sounds amazing and carries a wonderfully wide stereo effect that really bounces its odd dissonance around you. Extremely dramatic, almost iconic statements of the main theme rise dominatingly during The Landing (Track 3) and make the whole set-piece an exciting and ultimately rousing tour-de-force. But the most intense music is still to come.

An unused cue (Hanging On - Track 9) that was set to the crew's first good look at the face-hugger on Kane in the autodoc is deliciously atmospheric and gives us a different and more dynamic take on the frantic “acid for blood” scene. Two more suspense cues that were dropped from the finished film - Drop Out (Track 11) and The Shaft (Track 15) are terrific spells of mounting horror and dread. The Shaft, especially, designed to underscore Dallas' doomed sortie into the air-shaft, is a real spine-tingler. Goldsmith employs a tuba to belch out the enclosing threat and a marimba struck with soft timpani sticks. The build-up he maintains is overwrought and frightening. But perhaps the most frenzied and aggressive cue is that for Parker's Death (Track 17) that can now be heard in its original uncut form. Goldsmith composed for what was, initially, a differently cut sequence and although this cue still plays out with tremendous vigour and paralysing intensity as it heard in the film, this is an all-out wall of sonic menace that combines the gut-trembling use of didgeridoo, conch, a huge ancient wind instrument called the serpent (brought devastatingly and powerfully into effect by the great Bernard Herrmann in his score for Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, which will be reviewed soon) as well as saxophone and tuba. The diversity of his orchestration and sheer bravado at flinging together some of these larger-than-life ethnic instruments is still amazingly unorthodox even today. There is an effect in this cue that perfectly calls to mind the pitch-perfect fear of The Hunt from Planet Of The Apes - the shrill blaring of a horn signifying something alien, something primal.

The final three tracks of the original score - Tracks 21 - 23 - were all unused in the finished film and represent a blistering assault on the senses and paint a much more adrenalised depiction of Ripley's final encounter with the Alien. The Cupboard (Track 23) is the most exciting as Goldsmith uses the serpent to produce a fearsome array of stingers, highly-tensed strings and raging staccato brass to bleat out the heart-pounding menace of the piece. Out The Door (Track 22), as the title suggests, plays out over Ripley's final trick of blowing the beast out of the airlock. Even his revised cue for the scene (Track 30) only received 20 seconds of screentime out of a piece originally running for 3.02 minutes! Terry Rawlings then made the controversial discovery that Howard Hanson's Symphony No.2 (The Romantic) played perfectly over the end battle, Ripley's signing-off and the end credits, thus basically removing Goldsmith from this section of the film twice! Thankfully, with this release we can now hear what he had intended to close this terrifying saga with.

What I find intriguing about hearing this score properly and in its entirety is how similar much of it is to James Horner's great score for another of my favourite movies, 1981's Wolfen (see separate DVD review). Horner would, of course, go on to score Aliens for James Cameron and, naturally, lift several elements from Goldsmith for continuity purposes and audience familiarity. But I find it very surprising that he would have imitated so many of the unusual effects and snippets from within cues for his supposedly original work on Michael Wadleigh's eco-horror film. Always a composer who likes to revisit his own themes and motifs (self-plagiarism, basically), this perhaps innocent similarity is nevertheless something of a disappointment to me now that I've realised it has taken place.

The overall score as Jerry Goldsmith originally designed it was more splendidly eerie, driven and action-packed than the version we hear in the final cut of the movie - and it is prudent to note that the Director's Cut does not reinstate his initially composed cue for the once-deleted cocoon scene, although we do get to hear this very effective and emotive combination of A New Face and The Shaft on this disc. Despite all the suspense that he brings to the film, it is surprising just how exultant and joyous his original opening and closing cues were, the two bookends forming a reflective, almost transcendent harmony.

Disc 2 is where you will find the first official album version of Goldsmith's score - Tracks 1 - 10. I've had this on vinyl for donkey's years and also on disc and despite knowing full well that it wasn't the full score, and that it contained music that I didn't recognise from the film, it still made for a wonderful listening experience in its own right. It is presented here exactly as it was first released and runs for 35.44 mins. I find it best to view the album version of the score as a Goldsmith concert-suite of Alien. It flows brilliantly well and showcases a smart and intelligent choice of haunting and dynamic cues. It is fast and flares up with a unique atmosphere that is unpredictable and full of shock-value. A lot of the cues have been combined and, once you have heard the full “proper” score it is impressive to hear how seamlessly certain disparate pieces have been integrated. As a live concert it would make for a mesmerising and eclectic experience - and just to see and hear those exotic instruments in use would be a sublime treat.

Tracks 11 - 17, with a running time of 13.45 mins, are Bonus Tracks. These present us with alternates takes and demo tracks for several key sequences. Some have been designed to emphasise certain instruments, which Goldsmith did to allow Ridley Scott to fully appreciate just how unearthly some of their sounds could be. Track 18, It's A Droid, is a collection of inserts, or “pick-ups” that Goldsmith had re-done to satisfy himself when he believed certain cues could be improved. It is interesting to note that during one interval in this set, you can hear conductor Lionel Newman counting in and even some vague snippets from Goldsmith, himself, in the mixing booth. The Bonus Tracks end with Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, which is, of course, the piece of classical music that Dallas is heard listening to when he sits in the shuttle Narcissus in contemplation of the somewhat out-of-the-ordinary situation he and his crew have found themselves in.

This entire package is absolutely essential for Goldsmith fans, but there is no getting away from the fact that lovers of Ridley Scott's film, who are already aware of the fascinating history that it took to get it onscreen and its subsequent evolution over the years, would find much of interest here as well. Personally, I have loved this particular score for a great many years and this release has now become a cherished part of my collection.

Track Listing is as follows -

Disc 1 The Complete Original Score

1. Main Title 4.12

2. Hyper Sleep 2.46

3. The Landing 4.31

4. The Terrain 2.21

5. The Craft 1.00

6. The Passage 1.49

7. The Skeleton 2.31

8. A New Face 2.34

9. Hanging On 3.39

10. The Lab 1.05

11. Drop Out 0.57

12. Nothing To Say 1.51

13. Cat Nip 1.01

14. Here Kitty 2.08

15. The Shaft 4.30

16. It's A Droid 3.28

17. Parker's Death 1.52

18. The Eggs 2.23

19. Sleepy Alien 1.04

20. To Sleep 1.56

21. The Cupboard 3.05

22. Out The Door 3.13

23. End Title 3.09

Total Time 57.06

The Rescored Alternate Cues

24. Main Title 4.11

25. Hyper Sleep 2.46

26. The Terrain 0.58

27. The Skeleton 2.30

28. Hanging On 3.08

29. The Cupboard 3.13

30. Out The Door 3.02

Total Time 19.48

Total Disc Time 76.54

Disc 2 The Original 1979 Soundtrack Album

1. Main Title 3.27

2. The Face Hugger 2.36

3. Breakaway 3.03

4. Acid Test 4.40

5. The Landing 4.31

6. The Droid 4.44

7. The Recovery 2.50

8. The Alien Planet 2.31

9. The Shaft 4.01

10. End Title 3.08

Total Time 35.44

Bonus Tracks

11. Main Title (film version) 3.44

12. The Skeleton (alternate take) 2.35

13. The Passage (demo excerpt) 1.54

14. Hanging On (demo excerpt) 1.08

15. Parker's Death (demo excerpt) 1.08

It's A Droid (unused inserts) 1.27

17. Eine Kliene Nachtmusik (source) 1.49

Total Time 13.45

Total Disc Time 49.26

Total Two-Disc Time 126.20


Apart from the simply glorious packaging - all bedecked in familiar eerie Alien green - there is a wonderful 28-page booklet of cue-by-cue notes, a comprehensive history of Goldsmith's involvement with the film and the subsequent recording sessions, a technical piece about how the score was designed, and plentiful stills from the film. The notes from Mike Matessino are well written and also present with exactly how much of a cue was used in the film, or whether it was completely unused. There is also a final page note from Intrada's Executive Producer, Douglass Fake.

The notes are an essential component to the release and really deliver the necessary background and perspective on the entire Alien score history. Hats off.Soundtrack-wise, this has been the release of the year for me (2007), not only presenting the original score for one of the most critically acclaimed and influential sci-fi movies of all time, in its completed form and in fantastic quality, but enhancing the package with the first album version, bonus tracks and extensive liner notes that tell the difficult and troubled story of Goldsmith's musical creation for Scott's classic movie. The score is a revelation and a truly unusual and inspiring listening experience. Goldsmith's galactic-gothic is extraordinarily rich, ambient, frightening and haunting. The film, like Jaws, would have been nothing without such a score to help Scott's visuals literally take you to another planet and thrust you into contact with the remorseless xenomorph of the title. It's hardly rip-roaring stuff, folks, that's for sure ... and there are certainly many out there who wouldn't appreciate such a tense and disturbing litany of exotic and heart-stopping sound effects and mysterious, doom-laded melodies ... but Jerry Goldsmith broke the mould yet again with his music for Alien. I can't count how many times Hollywood's most prolific composer has fashioned avant-garde, un-stereotypical and yet perfectly fitting scores for films. Planet Of The Apes, The Omen trilogy, Poltergeist, Legend, Total Recall and Alien all pushed the boundaries of movie-music and proved what a wonderful and literally boundless talent Jerry Goldsmith was. There are many more considerable scores in his extensive back-catalogue, but this 2-CD release from Intrada can definitely sit at the top of the heap.

Extremely highly recommended to fans of Goldsmith, of movie scores in general and of the film, itself.

In Space No-one Can Hear You Scream - which isn't so bad. But if you couldn't hear this score in its entirety at long last - that would be a tragedy!








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